It's amazing what six months of an off-season will do for you. Six months of trying to move on and forget...rationalize that everything really does happen for a reason.
Since Brady Hoke stepped on campus on January 11th, the Michigan football program has undergone a drastic surgical procedure to remake the program into something completely different for the second time in three years.
I will say that if you're going to compare the first six months of Brady's career at Michigan to the first six months of Rich's, the differences are striking. For so many reasons.
When we last spoke of Rich Rodriguez, it was to wish him well as he embarks on his first football season not as a coach in some capacity, for the first time in some twenty-odd years. If you think he's not at least a little bitter about that, you don't know Rich Rodriguez. I don't claim to be an expert, but having seen the man up-close and personal after both triumphs and defeats, no one takes hardship more seriously than Rich does. He will spend the 2011 season as an in-studio analyst for CBS's college football broadcasts (Hellooooo SEC). Where he ends up after that, no one knows? But he's young-ish, driven and experienced. Call me crazy, but he's Jon Gruden-esque in so many ways, minus a Super Bowl ring.
Give him and his tarnished reputation a year to cool off. His name will be mentioned for every high-profile job opening next year...guaranteed.
I have a lot of respect for Rich Rodriguez. He was never given the shot he deserved at Michigan. If given a few beers and the assurance that he was completely off the record, I bet he would agree with that. Michigan was never ready for Rich Rod. And vice-versa. We all tried, some of us harder than others. But it was not to be. He will coach again somewhere. It will be at the highest level, at a place where he can be what he was at West Virginia. And he will achieve success again.
I have a suspicion that Michigan will face Rich Rodriguez at some point. It may be after the bulk of his talent has left Ann Arbor, but it probably will happen.
Brady's sense of Michigan pride and appreciation for tradition has reignited the Michigan football family base. Former players and coaches are now visibly involved in the program again. They, as do many fans, feel that Hoke just "gets it". I've said on a few occasions that I don't even know that "it" is, but I definitely see it, and I agree with the people saying it. It's not that Rich didn't try, but maybe it was just the fact that at a place like Michigan, we shouldn't have to expect a coach to have to try, it should just come natural. I'm getting off-topic here a little bit...this might be a little too conceptual for me to explain.
Another twenty percent of Brady's rebuilding process took place when Greg Mattison signed on to be the defensive coordinator. That hire was an absolute home-run in every sense of the term. You want to rebuild a defense and immediately insert a sense of toughness, you go out and pay the most qualified possible candidate what he's worth, and get his ass on a plane to Ann Arbor. Mattison said he would only ever consider leaving the Ravens for one man. Guess who?
The final thirty percent of Hoke's faction unification process (FUP!) has occurred over the last 3 months. A successful spring camp by all accounts, minimal attrition (especially Denard, which you can thank Al Borges for as well), accompanied by an immediate assemblage of one of the nations top recruiting classes for 2012. Those indicators have signaled to the Big Ten, the country, and more importantly the Michigan fan base that the Rich Rod experiment is over. Michigan is on it's way back.
To fully grasp the pure insanity of what is transpiring in Columbus currently and over the last 6 months, look no further than Jim Tressel's driveway. A few weeks ago, after one of the most successful coaches in the country was forced to resign for breaking NCAA rules, and then lying about it...a group of 200 or so Buckeye fans marched to Jim Tressel's house to offer support and show their appreciation for their fallen hero.
He never, in his mind, thought he would get caught. Who could ever topple the great empire he's presided over? Ohio State football is king in the state of all Ohio sports. Jim Tressel obviously felt invincible. And for so many years, he was.
For Buckeye fans, wins over Michigan are considered currency in Columbus. Jim Tressel was and is the richest man in town. They love him for it. To hell with everything else.
Terrelle Pryor? Well, that's a different story. He also beat Michigan, but he did it ugly. He won without class and with no style. Terrelle is not a son of Ohio. He's from Pennsylvania. And he's being treated as such.
Buckeye nation has already moved on. Terrelle Pryor will be the goat, so Jim Tressel can be the hero. Luke Fickell is simply just keeping the throne warm for the next king of Ohio.
So the script for the 2011 season is going to be drastically different than 2010. No one knows to what extent the NCAA is going to punish Ohio State for their transgressions. This blogger thinks the punishment is going to be brutal at best. Ohio State is going to be set back a few years. The treasure-trove of high school talent that OSU has had a firm grasp on for so many years is now suddenly up for grabs.
Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison seem to have quickly realized that fact, and are cashing in immediately. As is Michigan State. As will Penn State, Notre Dame and the rest of the league.
Parity is alive and well in the Big Ten. With so much talent peppered throughout the league, you have a recipe for not only great TV viewing, but unbelievable competition.
For Michigan and Ohio State, I predict a "righting of the ship" so to speak. 2011 is going to be the year where the two Big Ten powerhouses pass each other on the way up, and on the way down. The proverbial reset button has been pressed on this series. And whether it's good or bad for the rivalry, I will contend that anything that makes one team remarkably more dominant than the other is bad for everyone involved. If success over your biggest rival is the goal for every season, then what goals can you make when you get to experience that success so frequently?
Parity is good for business. It is good for Michigan, it is healthy for the league, and it will eventually be good for Ohio State. And anyone who thinks continued dominance is a good thing, just wait and see what happens to Ohio State when the NCAA hammer falls in Columbus sometime this fall. Ask USC how it feels. With great success often comes arrogance and entitlement. And with those, eventually...collapse. Not everywhere, but it is a rampant illness among college football's elite programs.
This is a much more complex subject that will become more and more of a problem as coaches and players continue to bend/break the rules while schools look the other way...all for the sake of winning and self-entitlement. How much of this we are subject to is up to the NCAA and how firmly they intend to enforce the rules. They've done a pretty lackluster job so far. I would argue they have an unique opportunity to set the precedent right now with Ohio State.
I am about to begin my fifth season blogging about Michigan football. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that my humble site would be read by anyone other than me and my family. I started this blog on the premise that I would probably do it for a little while and inevitably get bored and move on to something else. But what surprised me about doing this, is how much I really love sharing my thoughts about Michigan, college football and sometimes...life. Its the interaction that I receive from you guys that make this whole deal worthwhile to me. Its the comments and the emails, both positive and negative, that keep me coming back to this keyboard.
Close to a thousand posts later, I have no plans on stopping anytime soon. So I just want to take this small opportunity to thank you for reading. And if you think the words on this blog are worth passing on, I hope you would do so.